Speakers reflect on civil rights icon’s work in light of recent events
To honor the civil rights legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the MLK Committee of Santa Barbara hosted a virtual tribute Monday afternoon.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day event featured online performances, speeches from local officials and readings from students across Santa Barbara.
During a typical year, the MLK Committee hosts a number of in-person events to remember the inspiring work of Dr. King, including the annual lighting of the UCSB Eternal Flame and a parade down State Street. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee opted to forego all in-person festivities this year and instead commemorate the holiday via virtual events.
E. Onja Brown Lawson, president of the MLK committee, began Monday’s event by highlighting the numerous unprecedented circumstances of the past year and explained that despite various challenges, the committee still found ways to be “inspired.”
“2020 was a year like no other,” Ms. Brown Lawson said. “During no year in modern times have we reached such a crisis level in sickness and death. In no other year in modern times have we experienced such widespread division and hostility. For all of (2020’s) challenges, we continued to be inspired and to accomplish things we thought were impossible.”
A number of pre-recorded speakers shared personal reflections on the significance of Dr. King’s work toward equality and justice during the event.
Throughout the tribute, many speakers repeated quotes from Dr. King, including one that inspired this year’s theme: “The ultimate measure of a (person) is not where (they) stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where (they) stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
Event contributors also acknowledged 2020 circumstances that brought nationwide attention to social justice and racial equality issues in America.
As tensions swelled in the summer following the death of George Floyd, multiple elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams, acknowledged that there is still work to be done in the fight for social and racial justice.
“(There is) no doubt that this has been a challenging time for all, testing our patience, comfort, resolve, and most of all our democracy,” Rep. Carbajal said. “And yet we come together again in our community to reflect on the work of the Civil Rights Movement as the foundation that it has laid for the work that we must continue to do. We are at a turning point in our nation’s history.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murrillo also participated in the virtual event, offering a proclamation to start 2021.
“Let us look to the year 2021 to achieve social and racial justice and healing,” Mayor Murrillo said.
The event’s keynote speakers, Dr. Anna Everett and the Rev. Richard A. Lawrence, shared passionate speeches about Dr. King’s work and how his legacy can live on during times of division.
Dr. Everett, an emeritus professor at UCSB and a recently elected Santa Barbara City College trustee, shared excerpts from one of Dr. King’s most famous writings, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
She noted that as she watched the events of last year unfold — from the shooting of Jacob Blake to the Georgia runoff elections to the recent insurrection at the Capitol — Dr. King’s famous letter helped her “regain her bearings.”
The Rev. Richard A. Lawrence, a retired United Methodist clergyman and acquaintance of the late Dr. King, echoed similar sentiments in his passionate message, encouraging listeners to be prepared to fight for freedom, no matter the cost.
He complimented the strength of activists in the civil rights movement and in the current Black Lives Matter movement who were willing to face backlash in their “fight for freedom.”
“Black Lives Matter is the new trustee of the freedom movement,” Rev. Lawrence said. “So what’s the connection between justice and peace? I think Dr. King nailed it. It’s freedom.”
At the close of the event, the MLK Committee announced the winners of its annual MLK Essay and Poetry Contest. Each year, the committee selects a total of 12 winners from a 6-12 age group and a 13-18 age group to win cash prizes for the best essay reflection or piece of poetry pertaining to the theme of the event.
Each first-place winner in the essay and poetry contests read their pieces aloud during the virtual event. Carpinteria High School Senior Kamea Boucher won first place in the essay contest for the 13-18 age group for her essay titled “How Should One’s Morals Be Defined?”
In the essay, Miss Boucher expresses admiration for her sister, who she said will always do her best to stand up for what is right, even if it is not easy.
“The ultimate measure of a person is their choice to be a domino,” Miss Boucher said. “It is their choice to stand up and take action against something that isn’t right. It is their choice to be the person that influences others to be the change they wish to see in the world.”